RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON: Easter-egg chickens add color in midst of a menagerie

By Rheta Grimsley Johnson

MILL CREEK – When the “Eggs for Sale” sign went up, I wasn’t all that surprised. My friend Barbara Moore has about 30 laying hens of several different types, and more eggs than she can give away. So now she sells a few – first come, first served.
The banty hens and the strange-looking silkies and the araucanas with their green eggs that Martha Stewart “discovered,” all of those chickens are busy girls, daily producing eggs that taste far better and have more nutrients than a white factory egg. Barbara’s eggs come in an array of colors, from a pale caramel to a rich milk-chocolate brown. And, of course, Easter-egg green. Each carton is a visual surprise.
The garden club in posts its Yard of the Month sign invariably at houses where the lawns are manicured and the flowers perfectly arranged. Barbara’s yard is beautiful, too, but not in the planned and fastidious way of the town lawns. There should be another category for random creativity.
Not one, but two bright bottle trees are in the corner of the yard. Scrap materials Barbara plans on using eventually sit in sculptural heaps. Homemade coops and colorful umbrellas shelter her hens and roosters, and you can almost imagine that a carnival has set up overnight amidst the orange lilies and pink peonies.
Almost everything Barbara does is about her love for the animals, and there’s a Noah’s Ark feel to the wonderful and rambling blue country house that once belonged to her grandfather. When she moved home from Michigan in 2008, she wanted chickens like she’d grown up with and bought three hens and a rooster. The menagerie has had a haphazard evolution.
When Barbara’s rooster developed a sinus infection, she took him to a local vet. Jim Perkins was impressed with her concern and the care she gave the bird. He entrusted a hen that had been attacked by a dog to Barbara, who nursed it back to health. Perkins gave her more chickens, increasing her brood.
Today there is a flock of geese and 15 strutting roosters and a homemade pen with rabbits. Barbara inherited what is called a “confusion” of guineas, about 20, from neighbors. But the guineas are aptly named and bad to wander into the road. She’s down to four.
Old John, the golden dog who belonged to her late uncle, often chooses to nap on the warm pavement. Drivers must sit and blow their horn and wait for him to get up slowly, stretch and, in his own good time, move. Local residents know to watch for him.
The road by Barbara’s house used to be a quiet country lane with little traffic, a forgiving place when it comes to free-range country animals. These days, weekenders on their way to Pickwick Lake fly by wagging bass boats on trailers. Barbara shakes her head, crosses her fingers and builds another pen.
“They are speeding their way through life. Those fish aren’t going anywhere.”
The animals define her life, its routines and rituals. Every night she endures the wrath of the crippled rooster that must stay in the living room in a box with cedar shavings so he won’t get carried off by coyotes. Pooper was attacked by a goose when an infant and needs to sleep on his own heating pad.
“He probably should have been put down when it happened, but I can’t kill anything.”
The beauty of her unconventional yard is in the general coexistence of all those honking, clucking, barking, mewing pets. It’s only the humans speeding by that wreak havoc.
Syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson lives near Iuka. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852. To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit ww.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.